I snapped awake at the tentative rap on my apartment door and my hands immediately reached to grasp the knife in its sheath around my waist. Momentary confusion followed as I steadily came to the realization that not only was I not wearing my sheath, but nothing at all.
I sat up abruptly and clutched the comforter to my chest, my eyes falling to the empty spot on the bed next to me.
Panicking, I rummaged around in the nearby hamper for a shirt and jeans and then scuffed on my shoes. There were no tiny sounds in the apartment that would indicate Andrew’s whereabouts, no sign of a struggle or a break-in.
Andrew, where are you?
Almost instantly a parade of images danced behind my eyes: Andrew waking early this morning to find me uncharacteristically passed out from exhaustion, his wandering into the kitchen for something to eat only to realize that I had nothing, and then his decision to go out and pick something up to bring back before I awoke. A sweet surprise as he saw it.
“Dammit, Andrew I told you not to leave.” Frustrated, I headed down the hallway where the tapping at my door had now turned into a light knock. Someone was definitely at my door and it wasn’t Andrew. With our new-found connection I knew that he was relatively near, stuck in line at one of those trendy cafes as he waited for the takeout to arrive.
“Katrina? Katrina, it’s me, Wendell.”
Relief. “I’m here—just a sec.” I picked up my pace and opened the door to find Wendell standing there with a mixture of concern and confusion on his face.
“Everything okay? I saw that young man—Andrew was it?—hurrying out of here as if he had somewhere important to go. I know that it’s none of my business, but is everything alright with you two?”
“We’re fine. More than fine.” I motioned for him to come inside and he slowly shuffled through the door, his arthritis particularly bad this morning. His eyes automatically flicked to the torn and tangled pile of my clothing on the kitchen floor and of the knife lying nearby. His eyebrows rose in question. “So I see. I guess that would explain all the noise coming from in here last night.”
Mortified, I hurriedly tried to gather them up and out of the way. “Wendell, I am so sorry if we woke you, it’s just that—”
He waved away my concern and took me by the shoulders. “I’m glad that you found someone to at least share this time with. Does he know? About you?”
“He knows, but more importantly he accepts it and loves me despite it. I can’t even begin to explain how happy I am. After being alone for so long I’d almost given up hope that my life had any meaning in it.”
He nodded in understanding and I motioned for him to sit and he accepted gratefully. “Is there any chance that you have some coffee lying around? I’m all out and sure as hell don’t feel like running to the store to get any.”
“Sorry, I’m all out too. Actually,” I picked up the mugs of now-cold hot chocolate and dumped them into the sink. “Andrew is on his way back from picking up takeout. You’re welcome to join us. Judging from where he is right now and how fast the guy in front of him orders, he should be about twenty, thirty minutes tops.”
“And you would know this how, exactly?” He motioned to the remains of Andrew’s cellphone lying in pieces on the counter, evidence of last night’s attack.
I sighed and put the mugs face down to drain. “We’re connected—psychically speaking.”
His eyebrows rose even higher. “You didn’t turn him, did you? You always told me that you would never do that even if you could.”
“And I haven’t, nor am I going to. For now we’ve shared our life forces so we know what the other one is thinking, feeling and what they are doing. It’s almost like I’m looking through his eyes and he can look through mine so to speak. He probably has picked up that I’m awake and pissed that he left the apartment when I clearly told him not to.”
Wendell was immediately concerned. “What happened?”
“Last night Andrew and I were unexpectedly accosted and attacked. I ended up killing two of them right in front of him and nearly got killed myself. It was completely unavoidable and he was understandably freaked out as he put it, but after the initial shock wore off he was so accepting and forgiving that we ended up ah....” I was keenly aware that my cheeks were flaming and averted my gaze.
“Ended up sharing life forces?” His eyes twinkled mischievously.
I nodded. “Essentially. I told him that it would be best if I leave the city and distance myself as much as possible to keep him safe. I’ve no doubt that if they suspected that he was with me or knew that I care about him that they would come after him. I’ve seen it before. Andrew wouldn’t hear of it and insisted that there was some way that we could be together without me having to resort to turning him. I knew of a way if only in theory, and it worked. We are completely and totally connected.”
“He does understand that he will continue to age and that you will not? And still he insisted?”
I nodded again. “He does.”
Wendell had gone quiet, as if lost in thought. “And how soon were you planning on leaving? I know I may not be in any shape to help you pack, but I would still have liked to have at least said goodbye to you.”
It suddenly dawned on me that not once in this conversation had Wendell’s safety come up, and I was immediately ashamed and apologetic. “Oh, Wendell I am so sorry. You and Andrew are the two most important people in my life, and if those things were to ever come after any of you I don’t know what I would do. I was so scared of losing Andrew that I panicked last night and didn’t really think it through. Now that we’re connected I won’t have to leave after all because I’ll always know where he is or—God forbid—if he should ever run into trouble. I didn’t mean to sound like I was just going to leave during the night and never explain why to you. You’ve been my friend for years and entrusted me with your estate and I promise that I won’t abandon you like that, no matter what the circumstances are.”
He smiled sadly. “I know that, kiddo. Even if you had—which I knew you wouldn’t—I’d have still forgiven you. Life is too short to let a love like that slip through your fingers. An old fogey like me and my worthless trinkets should never come between you and what was obviously meant to be.”
“Maybe, but your my old fogey and I love you for that. It’s just that….” I paused as it suddenly became difficult for me to concentrate. My ears hummed and it felt as if all the sounds were being drawn from the surrounding air and I suddenly became distracted by a sudden surge of emotions coming from Andrew, of the awareness of impending danger. Someone was following him and I sensed his unease and apprehension. Mentally I saw him reach for his phone to text me and then stop, remembering that his phone had been destroyed. The feeling increased as someone outside my line of sight closed the distance between him and then reached out and grasped his left arm. Pain exploded in my arm—Andrew’s arm—as it was mercilessly snapped and lay useless against him. Blows rained down on him, shocking me in their intensity as my vision turned red then bled to black. I didn’t remember falling to the floor and striking my head against the edge of the table, didn’t remember feeling the blood trickling thickly from the gash on my forehead. I only knew that Andrew was in mortal danger and was in excruciating pain, too far away for me to come to his aid.
“Katrina, what’s happening? Talk to me!” Wendell tried to lift me, to help me to my feet, but my dead weight was too much for his aging limbs.
At that moment the door to my apartment was kicked in with enough force to wrench it clear off of the hinges. Before I could do anything to help Wendell or myself, to even shout a warning, my attackers from the previous night rushed in with inhuman speed and subdued us. My arms were wrenched hard behind my back and my shoulders went from fire to ice, then blissfully numb. From a distance Andrew sensed my pain as well and doubled with his own, I was completely incapacitated. Wendell glared at his captors yet he did not struggle. Through the tangle of my hair and blurring vision I saw concern not for his own safety, but my own. I gritted my teeth and tried to plant my feet on the floor.
“Cowards.” I spat blood at the feet of one of our attackers and he back-handed me viciously. I shook my head to clear the ringing in my ears and then glared defiantly up at him. “Leave them out of this—I’m the one you want.”
He laughed, sneering. “You’re a fool, you know that? Your love for them has made you weak, not to mention careless. You shared your life force with a mortal who is no more than a child, a mortal you let roam around without protection.”
His words sent me into a paroxysm of fear. I knew what my kind was capable of doing to a mortal, how torturing Andrew would be a game, his terror only driving them to new heights of depravity. “You know I won’t let you get away with this, that I will spend the rest of eternity hunting you down until every last one of you has paid for what you did to him.”
His smile widened, infuriating me. “We’re counting on it. It’s only fair, isn’t it? You killed those that we loved, so we kill those that you love. It has a sort of cosmic symmetry when you think about it.”
I shook my head, willing my mind to clear. Andrew’s fear and agony was paralyzing and there was no way to sever the connection. “At least let him go.” I motioned to Wendell, who had remained still and silent. “He’s just a neighbor—he’s nothing to me.” Forgive me Wendell, I’m only lying to save your life.
The man stopped and considered my words and for a moment hope flared bright and precious within me. He studied Wendell closely and even went so far as to tell the other man to release him. I nearly sagged forward in relief, but then his face underwent a subtle change. It became speculative, malicious, and full of cunning. He lifted my chin with his hand and stared at me full in the face.
What did I see? A young man no older than Andrew with not a shred of humanity or mercy within him, a seasoned, hardened predator that delighted in hurting others, a being who lapped up his victims’ misery along with their blood. I knew then that he had no intention of letting Wendell or myself go, of allowing at least one of us to survive this ordeal.
“You say he is nothing to you, yet your eyes betray you. They are full of fear for him, this one you love like a father.” Before I could answer, before I could even blink or open my mouth to protest, he gripped Wendell hard around the shoulders and tossed him over his back as if he were weightless. With a sickening thud Wendell struck the opposite wall, his body crumpling forward with the boneless abandon of the dead.
I opened my mouth to scream but the air was driven out of my lungs by a boot striking me square in the chest. I pitched forward, my lungs burning and my head spinning as they struck at me again and again. I sensed Andrew’s own awareness of my predicament and of his renewed struggling against his captors as he fought to get away, to come to my aid. It was useless—they were simply too strong for him, and with a final blow to the head he was unceremoniously tossed into the back of a waiting van before he lost consciousness.
I heard my ribs being broken and felt the blood pooling deep inside of me from internal injuries as my attackers continued to beat me into submission, but inside I was numb. Wendell was surely dead and Andrew would soon be too. Innocent blood now stained my hands and no amount of time or atonement could change that.
Finally the assault stopped and I was left lying on the floor with my mouth full of blood as I wheezed and struggled to draw a full breath.
“If you want to try—try—to save the other one, you’ll go back to the place where you killed my brothers last night before nightfall. Alone.” He took a few steps away from me and paused. “I should think that you’ll have no trouble finding us, what with all your petty meddling and useless questions. That, and perhaps your lover may still be alive long enough for you to see the light dim from his eyes.” His foot lashed out and struck me hard in the gut and I bit back a scream.
He motioned to the others who had stood back wordlessly. “Let’s go.”
Before they had even made it to the door I managed to crawl slowly and painfully towards Wendell who was breathing, but barely. They watched me with bemused expressions and then they left with no more than a backwards glance in my direction.
As I reached out and cradled Wendell in my arms, I could hear shouts and running feet in the narrow hallway outside my apartment as my neighbors took in the damaged door and the severity of our wounds. From inside Wendell’s unit I could clearly discern Benita’s frantic and plaintive howling as she had undoubtedly heard her master being hurt.
“Someone call the police!”
“Stop them, they’re getting away!”
“Get an ambulance, they’re bleeding!”
I was sobbing loudly, my voice high and keening as I felt Wendell literally slipping away from me. His eyes were closed tightly and his breathing was so faint that it seemed his next one would be his last. Blood had seeped into his thinning hair and stained it a tragic red, and I had the horrid feeling that I was clutching a bundle of sticks encased in rags, a corpse swaddled in its own death shroud. “Don’t you dare leave me…not yet. Please.” I kissed his forehead and smoothed the hair away from his face.
Six minutes later when the paramedics arrived, I had to be forcibly wrenched away from him.
I cursed at them when they tried to attend to my own wounds—which had long since healed—for fear that they would sense that something was not quite right. The police arrived and tried to get me to reveal what had happened in as much detail as I could provide. A break-in, I answered numbly. Nothing more. As to why Wendell was in my apartment, we were neighbors and he had simply wanted to borrow some coffee.
It was obvious that they did not believe me as they kept asking me the same nonsensical questions again and again, to see if I would slip up or get my facts out of order. Home invasions were not at all common in this area, and the trauma that we had both suffered was not typical of your average B and E. To their trained eyes, this had all the hallmarks of a planned attack and not a robbery as I had hoped to convince them of, as nothing of ours had been taken.
It all seemed so ridiculous and senseless that I found myself growing angrier, painfully aware that time was running out. Hours had passed and Andrew’s life hung in the proverbial balance. I had to get away, now.
I managed to make a hasty excuse to leave the room, to go to the restroom for I was suddenly feeling ill. They reluctantly agreed. After all, where was I going to go? They were unaware that there was a small window in the bathroom which I could easily escape from, and as soon as the door shut behind me I sprang into action. I was up and out of the apartment in a matter of seconds, and when I was sure that no one was watching, I jumped to the ground and landed soundlessly. The jarring sensation of landing on my full weight from such a height did wonders to clear my head and I adjusted the sheath around my waist, ensuring that it was concealed under my shirt. No one had seen me palm it before the paramedics had arrived, and no one had bothered to search me while the authorities were busy cataloging and photographing the “crime scene.”
I was silently grateful for the spare set of keys hidden under the floor mat, and as the car roared to life and I peeled away from the lot, tires squealing and gravel flying, my mind was sharp and focused: save Andrew, avenge Wendell, and destroy every last one of the creatures responsible even at the cost of my own life.